In the spring of 2020, Mattel and Hasbro announced that the official mobile version of the game Scrabble would no longer be the game produced by Electronic Arts, but rather a new game called Scrabble Go created by a company called Scopely. The change drew the ire of fans (who have even started a petition for the old game to be brought back) for taking what had been a fairly standard mobile version of the popular word game, and introducing a new, flashier version that had some additional “gamification” incentives and put the focus on playing against others, rather than the computer as was typical in the previous game.
This also introduced a new feature: chat. Since players are playing against other human beings, Scopely decided to add a chat feature, but apparently did not consider how such features may be regularly abused. In the months since Scrabble Go launched, there have been many reports of so-called “romance scammers” trying to reach out to people via Scrabble Go’s chat feature.
Multiple reports of these kinds of approaches started appearing in various forums, with some examples of the scammers being quite persistent. At least in Australia, consumer protection officials noted that they have received multiple complaints of romance scammers approaching them via Scrabble Go. One woman in the UK noted that she has been approached by such scammers two to three times every week.
After three months of complaints, Scopely announced that it was rolling out an update that would allow players to “mute” the chat function.
Decisions to be made by Scopely:
- Does a mobile Scrabble game need a chat feature?
- If scammers are bothering players so often is the game better off without it?
- How will chat be monitored? Is there a program in place to catch and stop scammers?
- Are there other tools to limit the abuse of the chat feature?
- Should the default be that chat is open to all or should it be opt-in?
Questions and policy implications to consider:
- Any system that allows for person-to-person communication can be abused. How should companies looking to add useful features take this into account?
- How do you weigh the pros and cons of features like chat when comparing their usefulness for engagement against their trust-and-safety risks?
A few months after launch, Scopely updated the app to allow players to mute the chat entirely. As complaints remained, it has also added an ability to only connect to friends you already know on Facebook or via your contacts (if you agree to upload your contacts to the service), effectively sandboxing the chat to only users the player has some connection with.
The company has also added the ability to “report” a chat if the user feels it is inappropriate.
Finally, to address the broader complaints about the game, Scopely introduced a “classic mode” to focus more on the traditional game, rather than all the bells and whistles of the full Scrabble Go.
Written by The Copia Institute, October 2020